Fresh wave of bus cuts could come if Government funding is slashed

Transport leaders have warned that a tsunami of cuts to local bus services is on its way if the Government fails to extend the emergency funding that has been paid to operators since the end of the pandemic.

The Bus Recovery Grant (BRG) funding underpins the operation of many bus services in the North East and across the UK, but is set to end on 31 March.

If the Government decides not to extend this recovery funding, commercial bus operators have indicated that large-scale cuts to services are inevitable alongside significant fare increases, and many communities could find their services reduced or disappearing altogether.

Early indications are that services could be reduced by as much as 20%, although the impact would be felt differently by different communities across the region. The threat of fresh cuts comes on top of the 15% of services (measured in mileage) that was lost across the region in 2022. This latest round of cuts would mean that almost one third of bus services in the North East would be lost in the space of a single year.

Alarmed local leaders and bus operators have called on the Government to act to stop the looming threat of major cuts to bus services in the face of the cost-of-living crisis already affecting the public, and to provide a longer-term solution for public transport funding.

Cllr Martin Gannon, Leader of Gateshead Council and Chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee, said: “If the Government withdraws this vital bus recovery funding, commercial bus operators can be expected to slash local services, reducing frequencies and in some cases cancelling routes altogether which would be absolutely devastating for our communities. At the same time, fares could also rise dramatically.

“I don’t want to see local people stranded in our rural areas or commuters sitting in the cold waiting for less frequent services. This tsunami of cuts is not what local people want or deserve, and we are working to make the case for continued Government funding to save our local services.

“Public transport was hit hard by the pandemic as passengers disappeared overnight and working patterns shifted dramatically. Our networks are recovering slowly but full recovery will take years, and the Government must take a long-term approach to funding bus services so that they are there for local people.

“Our region has massive ambitions for public transport. We are trying to work in partnership to make bus services more convenient and affordable for passengers, but we can’t improve services that simply aren’t there.  We don’t want more people to be forced into their cars which increases pollution levels, public health problems and escalates the climate emergency we all face.

“If recovery funding is pulled by Government, it will be catastrophic. Another wave of bus cuts will do long term damage with frequencies axed, fares hiked, and some of our communities losing their bus services altogether. It might even push the bus industry into a terminal decline. Last year, when bus operators reduced their commercial services, we had no choice but to step in and find extra local funding to stave off the worst of the cuts – doubling the proportion of bus services that we pay for. This time around, the scale of cuts that would follow the Government’s withdrawal of funding would be overwhelming and we are unlikely to be able to respond.

“I will be working with local leaders, our bus operators and MPs to press for urgent Government intervention to save our bus services from the chopping block. We can’t allow this to happen.”

Speaking on behalf of the North East Bus Operators Association, Nigel Featham said, “If the government decide to axe funding for buses – which is now looking likely – it will put an end to a huge number of routes. The North East will be particularly hard hit as it has many rural and semi-rural routes, which are the ones most at risk.  That’s why we are joining with local authorities across the region in urging the government to work out a long term, stable plan to support buses. A plan that levels up the North East not down, supports our economy and faces up to net-zero-carbon targets.”

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